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Evacuation of Mariupol Falters as Red Cross Team Is Turned Back

todayApril 1, 2022 1

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A planned mass evacuation of civilians from the besieged southern city of Mariupol, facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, failed on Friday, even as Ukrainian officials said that about 3,000 civilians had managed to escape the city without a Red Cross escort.

Thousands of civilians have been trapped in the city for weeks under constant Russian bombardment with limited access to food, water and electricity, making Mariupol a potent emblem of the humanitarian crisis gripping Ukraine.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, wrote on Telegram, the messaging platform, that 6,266 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities on Friday, including 3,071 from Mariupol, a glimmer of hope in a city buffeted by despair.

However, a larger-scale evacuation by a Red Cross team that had been on its way to Mariupol to escort a convoy of buses and cars carrying civilians had to turn back because it failed to receive guarantees of conditions that would ensure safe passage, the organization said in a statement.

The I.C.R.C. said the team, made up of three vehicles and nine personnel, would try again on Saturday. “For the operation to succeed, it is critical that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the statement said.

The Red Cross said it had expected about 54 buses, along with an unknown number of private vehicles, to take part in an evacuation convoy carrying thousands of people. It said two trucks filled with food, water and medicines were supposed to accompany its team into Mariupol, but it did not receive permission from the Russians to deliver the aid, and left the trucks behind.

While the larger convoy failed on Friday, smaller groups of people have been able to leave the city in cars, according to local officials. On Friday afternoon, Iryna Vereshchuk, the deputy prime minister, in a statement on her Telegram page confirmed that a corridor had opened from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia by private transport.

Around noon local time, Pyotr Andryuschenko, the mayor’s adviser, said that some buses had left Mariupol for nearby Berdyansk.

Around that time, the Mariupol City Council published a video of a convoy with a note that said, “Almost 2,000 people will be taken away by buses alone!” It remained unclear on Friday how many people ultimately left in that convoy.

Friday’s efforts came a day after International Red Cross said a corridor could be opened up, after an announcement by Russia’s Defense Ministry that a cease-fire had been agreed that would allow people to leave to the west of the city. By Friday evening, all hope for a broader evacuation had ended.

Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva.

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